Fire Party

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Jake Heilbron, one of Kona’s original founders, reminisces on the flames of change

It was 20 years ago that Dan and I got a phone call at 3 in the morning from the alarm company. There were only two of us working at our original headquarters in those days so I headed down to see what was up. About five miles away I was passed by two fire trucks and thought “this isn’t a good sign”.

When we got there, it was a 5 alarm fire with 10 trucks and water spraying from all around the 4 story building in the old Yaletown area of Vancouver. Dan and I stood there for a while watching the fire fighters and we realized pretty quickly that we weren’t going to be getting inside anytime soon. As we headed off to get some breakfast one of our competitors came by laughing and asked if we wanted to sell our business. When I got home I took my 2-year-old daughter to daycare. She went into the playroom and came back with a fire truck.

The old building on Hamilton Street had been through a lot but it was an old wooden structure with heavy wood beams and it burned for 3 days. The firefighters condemned the structure saying it was unsafe to go in. Since our offices were in the front and the fire had started in the back near the old loading dock freight elevator, Dan and I got hold of a tall extension ladder and had a friend help us distract the security guard while we scampered up and in. We filled up a couple of hockey bags containing our laptops and other valuables like the Campagnolo front derailleur I’d been saving for a new Ti road bike. In the meantime the security guard called the police and took away the ladder. Eventually the police sent us home after hearing our story and we got on with salvaging the business.

There were a lot of good things in place that kept us going. We were scheduled to move to a new warehouse in two weeks so we accelerated that process. A container of bikes was in port so our stock was going to be replenished quickly. All of our computer files were backed up and kept at home, which was good because there wasn’t anything to be saved off our laptops. In the end we collected to the top of our insurance policy because everything inside the old building was a write-off. The fire was never solved. Was it the owners, the moving company, the rowdy customers leaving the gay bar or something else? I guess we’ll never know, just like we’ll probably never know the truth about what happened in Tiannamen Square that same night.

Twenty years later, we’re still in a crappy old wooden building in the most undesirable part of the city. However, we’ve got a rooftop garden, an excellent place to relax and enjoy the first barbeque of the season. Thanks Dave for the great burgers and thanks to our staff, customers and friends for keeping us going when things were tough.

That laughing competitor is no longer in the bike business. I guess he went back to carpets.

– Jake
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3 thoughts on “Fire Party

  1. great story guys,i can totally relate after being in business 20 years.We are in a crappy wood building also.Trust me on this after being pronounced dead on arrival after being creamed by a retired cop while riding my bike to work. 19 years ago.what does not kill us makes us stronger!TommyB owner founder highintensitybikeshop.com, retired DH pro mountain biker.

  2. You Know ive been trying to take a vacation.Since the last time i posted on this Cog blog.Im working way to much and riding way to little.I designed my own Fat Bike Frame in November 2009.I did mention the frame to my Favorite Kona Rep Dale Plant.I wanted him to pass it along to Jake & Dan.I really wanted to tie this design somehow to my favorite bike Brand.I know snow/sand biking is a niche market.But lots of things start out that way.Ive been riding on snow & ice now over 40 years.I called on another Mountain bike Hall of fame inductee to give a welding Hand.Thanks a lot Frank the Welder.We got an American made Singlespeed Fat bike,that can Morph into a 29er single speed just by changing wheels.We put a Kona sticker on a few.With Kona saddle,pedals,bars,stems,grips,post and seat collar.Now i have an idea for a studded fat tire.in 29er version & 26.Any corporate guru guys.Want to get it going contact me at highintensitybike.com .We operate out of a crapy wooden four story building also.Tommy B.

  3. Matt says:

    Hello, i just came across your blog whilst searching for a 2004 Kona Kona that i recently bought second hand (and lost) in a fire whilst volunterring at the British Heart Foundation. It’s such a nice bike and i’m so disapponted not to be able to find another. Your blog makes for a very good read, thanks and keep up the good work.

    Matt

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